For Jim Adams, Army's laconic and long-suffering lacrosse coach, it would be his last chance for some time, perhaps forever, to smack the smugness out of Navy. The Middies do not cross sticks with Penn, and that's where Adams, because he has five daughters, will be employed next year. At Penn, the daughters of coaches go to school tuition-free; at West Point, where they are stuffy about the sex of their students, they do not. And so—the last trip to Annapolis, with the national championship, or at least an equal share of it with Johns Hopkins, to the winner, and, well, no quarter to the loser. Army hadn't won this game since 1963, and no one at the Point has been able to forget or forgive The Great 18-7 Drubbing of 1965, when the Middies' first string poured it on for almost the full 60 minutes, then walked away laughing.
"They never put in any of their reserves," Adams grimly told his heavily favored Cadets in the locker room just before last Saturday's game. "They just kept running up the score. And when it was over, they picked up Bill Bilderback [the Navy coach] and carried him over to our bench. It was the most humiliating moment of my life."
In lacrosse, the teams sit on the same side of the field and are separated by no more than the width of the official scorer's table. Carrying a winning coach over to greet the loser is akin to sinking an enemy and then shooting holes in his lifeboats. The Army, led by its scoring ace, Pete Cramblet, voted to ignore all white flags.
"It's nothing personal," said Cramblet. "Take the Navy guys one at a time and you'll like them all. Nice guys. But get them all together and you don't want to know them. We don't just want to beat them, we want to beat them badly."
June 8, 1969
The Cadets went into Saturday's game with only a 14-11 loss to Johns Hopkins against them. No team had held them to fewer than 10 goals, and in seven of their nine victories they had won by eight goals or more. "The only way to beat Army," the ancients of the game were saying, "is to score 20 and hold them to 19."
"The way we got to try and beat them," said John Padgett, Navy's premier defenseman, "is to knock them down, intimidate them. We've got some good tough boys and there're going to be some people on the ground."
When Bilderback scouted an Army game recently, he took Padgett with him. In Saturday's game the 5'11", 187-pound senior was given the task of stopping Cramblet. When Navy had played Hopkins, Padgett had been sent to do the same job against All-America Joe Cowan, had shut him out and Navy had shocked everyone by winning 9-6. It was Hopkins' only loss this year. The Middies had been less fortunate against Princeton and the Carling Club, losing to both by 10-8 scores. And Princeton lost six games, which made a lot of people wonder how the Navy managed to win 10.
"We won because the kids wanted to win," said Bilderback, an unassuming little man in baggy pants who has won six national titles and shared two others in 11 years as Navy coach. "We don't have any superstars, just a bunch of fighters. Lacrosse is just like combat, and our kids wouldn't be at the Academy if they didn't want to be in combat." Then he grinned. "But I guess that's why they are at West Point, too."
Saturday's combat had hardly begun when Army's John Connors took a pass from Marty Knorr, slipped past a Navy defender and drilled home a goal. And few in the crowd of 16,056, the largest in collegiate lacrosse history, noticed that Army, disdainfully, had not even started Cramblet. Now he trotted in. An All-America as a sophomore last year, he had 35 goals and nine assists going into the Navy game. Rivals would love to double-team him, but they can't because there's sophomore Tom Cafaro, who is almost as good, with 16 goals and 23 assists. And Knorr (17-18). And Darby Boyle (11-17).
"We like to mix them up, use them in different three-man combinations," said Adams happily. "It keeps the other team confused."
Adams shook his head. "That Cramblet is something else. You almost have to not coach him. You hate to tamper with his style, which may not be classic but is natural to him. You tell him what to do and he does it a different way, yet he winds up scoring. It's not that he's a rebel; it's just that he has to play his way to play well." He smiled. "I guess you can say his performance has overcome my coaching frustrations."
Out on the field Cramblet was playing lacrosse his way, left-handed. He took a pass from Charlie Jarvis, a footballer who plays lacrosse defense as though armed with an ax, took two steps to the right—and passed to Boyle, who scored.
"But they said he doesn't pass off," said the bewildered Middies. "No matter. We'll get our share. That Army goalie isn't too much."
The goalie was Rob Stewart, a small fireplug who had moved into the job six games after the season started. The Navy scouting report on him said: "Shoot and ye shall score." And Navy, which shoots often if not very well, unloaded 46 shots at him, most of them wildly. One shot, fired in desperation, sailed high over the goal and passed through the football goalposts 20 feet beyond, which left the crowd demanding three points for a field goal. On Navy's shots against Stewart, only 17 came near the goal and only three went in. The Middies scored their fourth goal against the reserves, while Army was voting to give Stewart the game ball (final score: Army 14, Navy 4). There is no record of what Navy voted to give its scout.
If Navy's attack was having its problems, Army's, led by Cramblet, who scored four goals and had two assists, was not. The Cadets took 10 fewer shots than Navy, scored with 10 more. "No sense throwing the ball," needled an Army player later, "unless it goes in the net."
Cramblet didn't get his first until early in the second period, and it was a beauty. He came in behind the Navy goal from the left—chased by Padgett—turned away, went into the air and let go over his right shoulder. "Actually, it was pretty lucky," he said later. "All I was trying to do was avoid getting hit. I saw Padgett coming and I went up to get away from him. I was just trying to get rid of the ball." He scored twice more in the quarter, and Army took an 8-3 lead into halftime.
But Navy wasn't done. For 14 minutes and 59 seconds of the third period the Middies held Army in check, until Knorr found Navy's goal unattended with one second left in the period and scored, to make it 9-3. "Until then, it was tug-of-war," said Adams. "Navy had to do its thing to get back in it, and we had to do ours to hold our lead. Just two forces struggling to see who could get some momentum going. That fast goal at the end just took it out of them."
With six minutes to play, Adams relented: he pulled his starters. But when it was over, the Cadets were relentless—they piled Adams on their shoulders and carried him the six feet to the Navy bench. Rat-a-tat-tat. Under went the Navy lifeboats.